Discover the Heroic Animal Evacuations from Zoos in Ukraine

Small striped baby of the endangered South American tapir (Tapirus terrestris)
© Artush/

Written by Kellianne Matthews

Updated: October 4, 2023

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Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine has left mountains of destruction all over the country, devastating both humans and animals alike. One of the many tragedies of war is that too often it is the innocent who suffer most. This also applies to the animals left in Ukraine’s many zoos, who continue to endure constant shelling all around them.

Even in the midst of so much violence and fear, however, there is a sense of hope as people and organizations from all over the world are bravely coming together to help not only other humans, but also the innocent animals trapped in Ukraine’s warzones. Let’s take a look at some of these heroic animal evacuations from zoos in Ukraine.

The Heroes Evacuating Animals from Ukraine’s Zoos

A recent video posted on Twitter illustrates one of these heroic animal evacuations in Ukraine:

The video shows a man driving a van with three tapirs from the Feldman Ecopark Zoo to safety. Volunteers covered the van with armor plates they had collected, hoping to bullet proof it as well as possible. They also lined the back of the van with hay before loading Dalma, Pinto, and Dolly—the only tapirs in Ukraine—into it for evacuation. The zoo confirmed that the family of tapirs is now safe.

animals with big noses: tapir

The tapir uses its nose for pulling vegetation and fruits from hard-to-reach places.

©Janusz Pienkowski/

The Feldman Ecopark Zoo in Kharkiv is home to at least 5,000 different animals. The zoo recently shared a map on their Facebook page, showing how it is being directly attacked by Russian forces. They wrote, “Regular bombings and shelling, damaged infrastructure, dead and crippled animals. A constant state of stress that kills no less than mines and shells… This is a nightmare that we simply couldn’t imagine, and now it’s a reality.”

Many of the zoo’s staff stayed behind following the initial invasion to feed and care for the animals trapped there. Three of these zoo workers were killed while trying to feed the animals, and many others were wounded. Zookeepers set free some of their animals, like deer and moose, feeling that they had a better chance of survival on their own. However, at least 100 animals have died so far.

A male red deer (Cervus elaphus) in Munich, Bavaria, Germany.

The common red deer are aptly named, as they are the most common type of deer living in Ukraine.

©Karl Moor / Creative Commons – Original

The Feldman Ecopark Zoo, however, isn’t ready to give up just yet. The zoo affirmed, “These animals need to live! Today we fight for the lives of each of our pets – big and small, rare and quite ordinary, warm and frost resistant, prefer grain or hay, fruit, vegetables or meat… The task is difficult, but we will definitely do it, because the life of living beings is at stake.”

Other Animals Making Their Way to Safety

Many other zoos and animal sanctuaries in Ukraine continue to struggle due to the Russian invasion. While this is terribly disheartening, many heroic volunteers continue to step up to help bring as many animals to safety as possible, even at the risk of their own lives. In addition to the three tapirs, volunteers evacuated several kangaroos and wallabies last week.

Red-necked Wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus) female with young

Kangaroos and wallabies are close cousins and look very similar, but wallabies are slightly smaller.

©Glen Fergus / Creative Commons – Original

Rescuers also brought a lion named Simba and a gray wolf named Akyla to safety. However, their journey was far from easy. The two animals were in cages in the back of a van for four days. Brave volunteer drivers took the long way out of Ukraine to avoid Russian military stations and roads damaged by bombs.

Although these animals are now safe from the Russia-Ukraine conflict thanks to these heroic animal evacuations, there are of course many others that still need help. The EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) has set up an Emergency Appeal for Ukrainian Zoos, hoping to raise money to help zoo animals still struggling in the Ukraine. Many of these zoos have also asked the public to purchase e-tickets to help fund zoo operations and feed the animals.

London Zoo Animals During War World II

The zoo animals in Ukraine are not the first to be caught in the middle of a human war. In September of 1939 the London Zoo closed due to World War II. Fortunately, the zoo had already relocated their giant pandas, orangutans, Asian elephants, chimpanzees, and an ostrich to another location.

However, the London Zoo had many more difficult decisions to make in the face of war and potential bombing. Tragically, they had to kill some of their venomous animals. The zoo feared that these animals would escape and harm the public if the zoo was bombed. The largest king cobra ever recorded—nearly 19 feet long! —was one of the heartbreaking casualties. The zoo saved some of the other reptiles, however, including two pythons (both over 25 feet long), Chinese alligators, and a Komodo dragon.  

What Eats Snakes

The king cobra is the longest venomous snake.

©Vova Shevchuk/

The London Zoo immediately closed their aquarium and drained the tanks. They relocated many of the fish to ponds and tanks in other areas of the zoo. These various safety precautions paid off, protecting the animals and workers from several bomb attacks during the war. Bombing destroyed many of the zoo buildings, but miraculously no animals were injured. A zebra escaped during one of the attacks, but she was quickly found and returned to the zoo.

How Did the London Zoo Adapt During the War?

The London Zoo also had to adapt to the economic effects of the war. Instead of using gas the zoo employed llamas, camels, and Shetland ponies to carry supplies throughout the zoo. Food for the insectivores previously came from Germany, but such routes were now unavailable. As a result, the zoo set up their own mealworm breeding station so they could feed their animals.


Camels can carry several hundred pounds on their backs for hours at a time.

©Wolfgang Zwanzger/

Feeding and housing animals at zoo was very expensive during the war, especially when the zoo could not always be open for visitors. They sent out announcements to the public, asking them to donate acorns and other small items to help. The British people responded with astonishing enthusiasm, donating at least one ton of acorns to the zoo every week!

To help raise additional funds to care for their animals, the London Zoo began an “Adopt an Animal” program. The public response was incredible. Not only did the zoo keep the program running after the war, but zoos and aquariums all over the world still use it today.

The Oldest Alligator in the World Survived War World II

Although many zoo animals died in the attacks and battles of World War II, there are some who survived. In fact, the oldest alligator ever recorded, Muja, is one such survivor. This amazing alligator is over 85 years old! (In the wild, alligators usually live between 30-50 years.) Muja outlasted several World War II bombings and continues to live happily at the Belgrade Zoo in Serbia today. He is in good health for his age, even after having part of his leg amputated in 2012. Muja even has his own following on TikTok and other social media platforms.

american crocodile vs american alligator

Although alligators are carnivores, they are also opportunistic feeders and have even eaten fruit.

© Proxmire

An American Alligator from the Berlin Zoo

But Muja wasn’t the only zoo alligator to survive World War II. Another American Alligator named Saturn was living in the Berlin Zoo during the war. When the zoo was bombed in November of 1943, many animals and people were killed, including 20-30 crocodiles and alligators. Saturn, however, somehow escaped the carnage. He lived on his own for three years until a group of British soldiers discovered him.

In 1946, Saturn arrived at the Moscow Zoo, where he lived out the remainder of his life. In May of 2020, Saturn died at the age of 84. On their Facebook page, the Moscow Zoo commemorated him, saying “The Moscow Zoo has had the honor of keeping Saturn for 74 years… For us Saturn was an entire era. There is no exaggeration in this. He came after the Victory – and was with us on its 75th anniversary. It is a great happiness that each of us could look him in the eyes, just quietly be there. He saw many of us as when we were children. We hope we did not disappoint him.”

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About the Author

Kellianne Matthews is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on anthrozoology, conservation, human-animal relationships, and animal behavior. Kellianne has been writing and researching animals for over ten years and has decades of hands-on experience working with a variety of different animals. She holds a Master’s Degree from Brigham Young University, which she earned in 2017. A resident of Utah, Kellianne enjoys creating, exploring and learning new things, analyzing movies, caring for animals, and playing with her cats.

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